Friday, March 12, 2010

MD legislative progress report

March 7, 2010


Maryland and Montgomery County Peace and Justice Legislative Issues – 2010


Listed below are some of the peace and justice initiatives that are being considered during the 2010 Maryland Legislative Session (3 month session lasting from mid January through mid April 2010).  Updates will be provided as these initiatives move through the state legislature.  If you would like to see any other peace and justice issues that are being considered and not listed below be added, please provide this information to for inclusion.  Please contact your legislators regarding these bills if you have not already!




Keep the Maryland Guard Home – on February 15, 2010, Delegate Shiela Hixson, Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, introduced HB 1037, a companion to Rich Madaleno's SB 571. Each has just one paragraph, stating that the Governor shall request the return of the National Guard from Federal control when an AUMF has expired by its own terms. For more information, go to or contact Steve -


The House bill will be heard by the Health and Government Operations (HGO) Committee.  Please write to HGO Committee members, asking them to vote in favor of HB 1037. The second is to testify in the bill's favor at its hearing before the HGO Committee.


HGO committee members include,,,

and  These legislators appear to be sympathetic to this bill. Benson, Montgomery and Oaks were sponsors last year. Even if you are not a constituent of these legislators, you are asked to send an email to each of those Delegates, urging them to back HB 1037 when it comes to a vote in the HGO Committee.  in District 39 and  in District 40 are HGO Committee members but not so sympathetic. Those of you in their Districts should definitely write as constituents, asking them to back HB 1037.


State Senate - The Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs committee has scheduled a hearing for Rich Madaleno's SB 571, Keep the Maryland Guard at Home, for March 4th.  Three of the senators on this committee are sponsors of the bill – Senators Lenett, Harrington and Pinsky. The three remaining Democrats senators are the ones to concentrate one. They are the Chair, Joan Carter Conway, the Vice Chair, Roy Dyson, and member James Rosapeppe.  Their emails and phone numbers are as follows.  Please contact them in support of this bill whether or not you are a constituent (but especially if you are a constituent of theirs).


  •, 301 858 3145
  •, 301 858 3673
  •, 301 858 3141



In 2009 the Maryland Assistant Attorney General was of the opinion that the Keep the Maryland Guard at Home bill was unconstitutional.  Maryland Senator Jamie Raskin, a constitutional scholar, suggested that the first paragraph be dropped, as that was the objectionable material. We expect HB 1037 to pass muster with the AAG.


Members of the Maryland National Guard enlisted to defend and protect the state of Maryland. Their deployment abroad jeopardizes their ability to do that.


Deploying the Maryland National Guard to Iraq and Afghanistan, missions for which they were not trained, resulted in significant harm to Guard members and their families, including:


  • Loss of time together,
  • Poor access to health care.
  • Post-deployment mental health problems,
  • Financial hardship and
  • Injury and death.


When we ask for that kind of sacrifice from our National Guard we should be as sure as we can that their deployment abroad is legal.


Update:  from Peace Action Montgomery is that five people testified for this bill on March 4. Steve Lane, Geoff Mallard of IVAW, Ellen Barfield of VFP, Gail Owens, Karen O'Keefe, and Jean Athey.  It didn't come before the Committee until after 5 p.m., by which time there weren't many senators left in the room. All the testimony was excellent, and Senator Rich Madaleno gave a good rationale in support of the legislation prior to the testimony.


ASVAB – Delegate Sheila Hixson, Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, on Thursday, January 28th, introduced a bill in the Maryland State Assembly that could dramatically diminish the ability of military recruiters to target Maryland's children by ensuring that only students and their parents or guardians may release to military recruiters the results of the military test (ASVAB) taken in the state's public schools.  Help protect student privacy. Contact your state legislators using this form here.

This is important because the ASVAB test is misleadingly advertised as a vocational aptitude test instead of a military recruiting test. Private information about Maryland students who take the test is provided to the military without the consent of students or parents.

This information enables recruiters to tailor their pitch to individual students and to obtain personal contact information on students--circumventing Federal and State laws designed to protect student privacy.  Keep our children's information safe by e-mailing or calling your state Reps. now.

If Maryland can pass this legislation, it will:
    •    prove much harder for recruiters to target our children;

    •    reestablish parents' control over the privacy of their children; and

    •    serve as a model for the rest of the nation.

This is extremely important. It is time to roll back the militarization of our schools, and this legislation can begin that process.

Please ask your state legislators to support student privacy here
.  To see the actual bill at  For more information, contact Pat Elder at


To contact your delegate directly about this bill, go to (


Update:  Peace Action Montgomery reports that the March 3rd House hearing was very well planned,   with testimony submitted from representatives of the ACLU, NAACP, MD PTA, and Progressive MD, as well as Pat Elder for the "Maryland Coalition to Protect Student Privacy." However, the bill didn't come up until after 5 p.m., and 3 of our 4 organizational representatives were no longer there to present in person. Pat and the PTA representative did a great job, but we were disappointed that after all the advance preparation, the other people didn't get to testify.


Work on the ASVAB legislation now turns to the Senate, which will have a committee hearing on the bill on March 17.



Death Penalty Bill - Death Penalty Evidence – Senate Bill 404, SPONSOR: Sen. Norman Stone (District 6), COMMITTEE: Senate Judicial Proceedings (JPR).  The Maryland Catholic Conference and MD CASE opposes this legislation for the following reasons.  Please contact your senator and senators on the JPR Committee.  MCC talking points are as follows:


The Church supports an end to capital punishment in Maryland. We urge legislators to oppose Senate Bill 404, which would weaken the strict evidence requirements the General Assembly passed last year for death penalty cases.

Expanding the cases eligible for the death penalty contradicts the recommendation of the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment to repeal executions in our state.

Allowing evidence as unreliable as fingerprints or photographs is a step backwards, and will increase the chance of convicting an innocent person.

The sentence of life without the possibility of parole, which is already available in our state, is a just and sufficient means of protecting Maryland's citizens.


In December 2008, the Maryland Commission on Capital Punishment recommended that the state repeal the death penalty because, among other things, it found: A "real possibly" of executing an innocent person; serious racial, socioeconomic, and geographic disparities in application of the death penalty; and that death penalty cases are three times more expensive to prosecute than life without the possibility of parole cases.


The General Assembly, unfortunately, did not pass full repeal of the death penalty in its 2009 session. The legislature did, however, make significant progress by passing some of the most stringent evidence requirements in the nation for prosecution of capital cases. The law now only allows the death penalty to be pursued in cases where there is DNA evidence, a video of the crime in progress, or a voluntary, video-taped confession.


Efforts are underway to diminish the gains made last year and expand the cases eligible for the death penalty. Senate Bill 404 would add fingerprints and photographs to the types of evidence that can be used to pursue a death penalty case. Last year's law already allows the use of fingerprint evidence when biological evidence or DNA is lifted from the fingerprint. Absent DNA, there are no uniform standards for determining a fingerprint "match" with any certainty. As pointed out in a 2009 report to Congress from the National Academy of Sciences, "With the exception of nuclear DNA analysis, however, no forensic method has been rigorously shown to have the capacity to consistently, and with a high degree of certainty, demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual or source." SB 404 increases the risk of sentencing an innocent person to death.



Budget Bill – Poverty Issues - Oppose cuts to programs that serve those in most need.

COMMITTEES: House Appropriations/Senate Budget & Taxation

KEY LEGISLATORS: 25 (Sen. Currie) 38B (Del. Conway) 12 (Sen. Kasemeyer) 34A (Del. James)




The budget reflects the state's priorities. The highest priority should be assigned to preserving programs that help vulnerable Marylanders meet their most basic needs.

As the economy has worsened, Maryland's social services safety net has become increasingly strained. A system that was already challenged is now tasked with catching those who are newly in need of help.


Repairs to the safety were needed even before the most recent rounds of budget cuts. When it comes time to make the repairs, a simple restoration of recent cuts will not be enough. Funding decisions should be based on Marylanders' needs, not on historic funding levels.




Poverty in Maryland

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2006-2008 American Community Survey, 449,460 Marylanders – one in 12 people in the state, more than the entire population of Maryland's Eastern Shore – live in poverty. For a family of four, "living in poverty" means having an annual income of no more than $22,050. These figures, however, capture few of the effects of the current recession. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Maryland's December 2009 unemployment rate stood at 7.5% – more than double its rate of 3.4% just two years before. This is the highest reported level of unemployment in Maryland since 1983.


The Budget

Maryland's budget starts with the governor; his administration develops the bill that will be considered by the legislature. Once the budget bill is introduced, it is sent to the General Assembly's two budgetary committees: the Senate Budget and Taxation (B&T) Committee and the House of Delegates Appropriations (APP) Committee. In committee, the budget is broken up and considered by issue-oriented subcommittees. In B&T, the Health, Education, and Human Resources Subcommittee handles poverty-related programs. In APP, the programs are considered by the Health and Human Resources Subcommittee. B&T and APP members wield more influence over the budget than their colleagues on other legislative committees.


Recent Budget Cuts


Three-fourths of Maryland's general fund revenues come from income and sales taxes. As both sources have dropped off considerably in the current recession, the Governor has had to resort to a series of budget cuts to keep Maryland's budget balanced. Since the (current) Fiscal Year 2010 budget was passed at the end of the 2009 legislative session, it has already suffered three major rounds of cuts. At the end of July, the budget was cut by some $281 million; just a month later, it was cut by an additional $454 million. In November, $364 million more was cut. The combined $1.1 billion in cuts include the following measures that will have real and negative impacts on Marylanders in need:


  • Prescription drug assistance – Elimination of the Maryland Medbank Program, which provided prescription drug assistance to low-income patients who were uninsured or under-insured.
  • Mental health – Closure of the Upper Shore Community Mental Health Center and the closure of units at three other facilities.


  • Health and community services – Reductions in rates paid to health care and community services providers, including nursing homes, providers of mental health and substance abuse treatment, Medicaid Managed Care Organizations, and providers of developmental disabilities services. Rate reductions can cause providers to go out of business, or to stop accepting Medicaid patients and state agency referrals.


Even with these cuts and an influx of federal stimulus dollars, it has been estimated that the State will face a shortfall of $2 billion in Fiscal Year 2011. Certainly, more programs will be vulnerable to budget cuts in the coming months. Federally-funded programs, which are not under direct threat from State budget cuts, will still face indirect threats in the form of staffing cuts to the State departments that administer them.


Challenges to Assisting Marylanders in Need


A fair number of State and Federal programs exist to serve Marylanders in need. However, even before the recent rounds of budget cuts, the efficacy of most of the programs – State and Federal alike – was limited by a number of factors:


  • Low levels of assistance – Many programs provide such low levels of assistance that they are inadequate to meet people's needs. Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA), for instance, provides a monthly grant of just $695 for a family of four. This is often all a family has to provide for its non-food needs. The Temporary Disability Assistance Program (TDAP) provides just $185 a month to disabled adults who are not working or collecting unemployment, SSI or SSDI.
  • Waiting lists – Programs that provide more adequate levels of assistance (and even some that don't) often have lengthy waits before they can be accessed. The Housing Choice Voucher Program (formerly known as Section 8) fills in the gap between the cost of housing and the rent a family can afford. However, families generally wait years before they receive a voucher. The waiting list in Baltimore County is currently seven years. Waiting lists in some jurisdictions have closed entirely.
  • Low income eligibility – Some programs are accessible to very few because their income eligibility guidelines are so low. In order for a disabled, single, childless adult to qualify for Medicaid in Maryland, he or she must have an income of less than $2,500 annually.
  • Inadequate staffing – Departments of Social Services (DSS) – where Marylanders go to apply for assistance for their housing, energy, medical, food, and income needs – are terribly short-staffed. Though social workers can feel busy with a caseload of fewer than 50, some DSS employees now have caseloads of 1,000. The situation has had a major impact on Marylanders' ability to access services – even services that are fully funded by the federal government.


House Bill 371, Stem Cell Research Fund – Sickle Cell Disease – Funding - SPONSOR: Del. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam (District 10); COMMITTEE: House Health & Government Operations Committee - MCC POSITION: SUPPORT




Please support House Bill 371, which devotes 5% of the Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund to adult stem cell research for sickle cell disease. This will ensure the Fund is used for its stated purpose: To produce cures & treatments.

Sickle cell disease is a painful illness that primarily strikes African Americans and that has few treatment options for adult patients. Two years in a row, researchers applied for a grant from the Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund to study the use of adult stem cells to treat sickle cell disease, and both times the application was rejected.


A recent paper in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that a clinical trial that used adult stem cells cured 9 out of 10 patients of sickle cell disease.


HB 371 has no fiscal note -- a funding source already exists. The bill ensures some of the Fund will be used for applied research to rapidly save lives.



Campaign Finance Reform - Sen. Paul Pinsky and Del. Jon Cardin are sponsoring legislation in the 2010 session of theGeneral Assembly based on the recommendation of an official, bipartisan study commission - ( 


Transparency:   Maryland Open Government Act (Mizeur) - see article in Wash. Post - "Crowdsourcing Maryland'sDemocracy"  Also see Delegate Ali's bill at Legislative Voting Sunshine Act (HB 107) (Ali)


Progressive solutions to the budget crisis: Teacher and Employee Pension Sustainability and Solvency Trust Fund (HB 10) (Manno)


Maryland Transparency and Equal Access in Government Coalition (MD TEAG) - Builds Support for Transparency/Open Access Issues. TEAG has been meeting with legislators and others on these issues. For more information on TEAG's long range goals as well as its work in the current session, please contact Luis Zapata, Chair, MD TEAG Coalition,, 301-325-6754.  

Education Reform: Education Advocates Organize to Protect Funding - During the week of January 25th, more than 250 education supporters flooded the sanctuary of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in support of the Baltimore Education Coalition's efforts to protect education funding. The Baltimore Education Coalition was founded last year during the 2009 General Assembly session to fight cuts to the education budget in Baltimore City Schools. The coalition has grown to over 20 groups, including: ACLU of Maryland, BUILD, MD Charter School Network, BEN/Civicworks, and other schools and community groups.

During the meeting, the groups set an agenda to support the Governor's budget and protect Thornton funding from possible cuts that could be made by the legislature. The meeting attendees included parents and staff from more than 25 schools, and advocates from community and faith-based organizations, community activists, businesses and organizations.

Each legislative district broke out during the meeting to select leaders and choose groups to visit legislators in Annapolis and to plan for future events. The next Baltimore Education Coalition "Believe in Schools" event will occur on March 1st in Annapolis from 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. to support and protect education. For more information on how to join the Coalition and be part of the movement to fund education contact Frank Patinella or JaCina Stanton at 410-889-8555,

Maryland Procurement Bill – which would require, or give preference to, banks wanting to do business with the state of Maryland that do not violate Maryland's usury laws (current interest rate of 24%).  This would help local banks and hurt large banks which have credit card rates over 24% from getting business with the state of MD or any public entities in the state.  Bill is in the final stages of being drafted by District 16 Delegate Bill Frick.


Maryland Tax Refund Anticipation Loan Consumer Protection Act – currently, Maryland residents can be charged fees that represent well over 100% in interest on an APR basis for receiving immediate checks for their income tax returns instead of waiting the two or three weeks it would take to have their refund deposited in a bank account by the federal or state government.  Currently, banks such as JP Morgan Chase receive these enormous fees for basically risk free loan to MD residents, especially the working poor who often need these refunds as soon as possible.  This bill would require providing notice to consumers regarding how high these fees actually are. 


Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218.  Ph: 410-366-1637; Email: mobuszewski [at]


"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


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